Ever since I read the tall tales of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, I’ve wanted to visit a lumberjack camp. I watched Charlie the Lonesome Cougar and saw lumberjacks riding down the river on a pile of floating logs and thought that was about the coolest thing I’d ever seen when I was a kid. I’ve seen shows on how the Norwegians came to America, chopped down trees, and built log houses with only an ax. That’s a skilled artisan.
There’s just something romantic about the thought of walking out into the wilderness and carving out an empire or a home with just an ax. I wouldn’t necessarily want to do it, but I like dreaming about it. Especially the floating down the river on logs part.
However, the History Channel has put together a brand-new thirteen episode series called Ax Men that looks like it’s going to be fantastic. I’ve seen the first episode so far, “Man Versus Mountain,” and was surprised at how dangerous the whole business appears to be. It isn’t just felling the trees or handling the saws that presents danger. The ride to and from the work site, jostling for position on mountains on a twisty dirt trail only wide enough for one vehicle, poses more threats. And most of the logging crews don’t have up-to-date equipment. When you throw in the elements and a lot of time spent working on mountainsides too steep to climb up without gear, the job looks almost impossible.
Still, crews get out there every day the weather’s good enough and pull out enough timber to make just enough profit to keep going. The guys who do it love the work, love being outside, or simply don’t have anything else they can do in that part of the world and refuse to leave.
The series is going to focus primarily on four logging outfits. Melvin Lardy’s Stump Branch Logging crew operates on a shoestring and has to take some of the dirtiest and riskiest jobs available to just stay afloat. Most of his crew appears to be relatively young and inexperienced.
J. M. Browning Logging, owned and operated by Jay Browning, is a high-tech, high profit company. However, Browning didn’t get to the top of his particular field without some sacrifices. He lost his left hand in a logging accident and now wears a prosthesis to use a chainsaw. Although he ramrods the crew, he gets down with them and gets just as dirty as they do. He uses top equipment and manages to get the best men in the field to work for him.